This afternoon, Jake Gyllenhaal pulled off a rare feat: He earned his first Tony nomination for his role as Abe in the second half of “Sea Wall/A Life,” a pair of monologues narrated by young fathers, and served as a producer on two shows nominated for best play (“Sea Wall/A Life” and “Slave Play”). Tom Sturridge, who performs the show’s first half, “Sea Wall,” also earned a nod for best leading actor in a play.
In an interview on Thursday evening, the actor discussed overcoming his initial terror at being alone onstage for an hour, how his performance evolved over the course of the show’s run and what it was like to have his father in the audience. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How does it feel to receive your first nomination?
I’m so deeply moved. At a time where so much is uncertain, it’s nice to have a tiny bit of certainty. “Sea Wall/A Life” was something that was just cooked up between a couple of friends and became something that was such a deep, profound journey for all of us.
How is it different performing in and producing shows on and Off Broadway?
I knew I was seeing something extraordinary when I saw “Slave Play” for the first time, and I knew I wanted to help bring it to as many people as possible. And then when we brought “Sea Wall/A Life” to Broadway, I felt like I was in sort of a rock show doing a monologue. The Hudson Theater is such a vertical theater, and the audience feels so close to you. I remember walking off drenched in sweat after the first Broadway preview, and I thought, “Wow, this is going to take a lot of hydration.”
How did your performance evolve over the course of the run?
At first, I was in absolute terror being alone onstage for an hourlong monologue, with me facing all my deepest insecurities and projections. So, initially, it was just the success of even having gotten through it with most of the writing intact in the first part. Then, when I got to Broadway, I really felt like I was having a conversation with the audience and was able to listen to them in a way that I wasn’t when I was more terrified.
You play a character grappling with a dying father. Did your own father have the chance to see the show?
The first time I performed it for my own father was surreal and really moving. I don’t think we have a lot of opportunity to talk to our parents — I haven’t, I’ll speak for myself — about what we think about them dying. To be able to know the person in the dark is really listening and to be able to speak with an open heart to them about that is — you’re going to make me cry. It was an honor to be able to tell him how important he is to me.